Criminal justice reform is rarely cut-and-dry. Sometimes bills which allow for less jail time and lighter sentences directly conflict or coincide with other areas of interest, such as gun reform.
This is the case with Michigan House Bill 4434, which is currently being reviewed in the Michigan Senate. The bill was passed in the House with bipartisan support and is one of several pieces of legislation regarding gun rights. Under the bill, gun owners carrying an expired license would see their penalty reduced to a misdemeanor rather than a felony. They would be subject to a $330 civil fine, given that the license had lapsed within a year prior to the offense, that the person was still eligible for a CPL and that it was their first offense.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Matt Hall (R-Emmett Twp.), framed the bill as “common sense gun reform,” much like the other weapons-related issues on the Republican caucus’s agenda this term.
If I were a voting member in the Senate, I would want to support the pending bill, as it reduces the amount of people serving jail sentences for crimes which, though weapons-related, are nonviolent. I agree with the assertion by Hall that a felony charge is a “hefty punishment for expired paperwork.”
Just as Michiganders forget to renew their driver’s licenses, the same can happen with a CPL. The current punishments are too steep, as violators of the laws in place could be stripped for life of their gun rights for hunting and self-defense and could find it more difficult to find housing or employment -- all because of a failure to submit paperwork. As they are not violent offenders, they should not lose their rights, especially not for life. The laws should be scaled to better reflect the issue the laws are intended to correct.
This bill relates to another issue being considered nationwide -- whether gun rights should be restored as part of second chance legislation to former felons. While I generally support second chance legislation, especially for non-violent offenders, I am a tad more skeptical on whether it should extend to restoring gun rights.
The reinstatement of these rights is up to the states, and some have very lax qualifications for getting gun rights reinstated. Other states continue to make it difficult and embrace a “slippery slope” argument which, given this Times article, may have some validity. “Common sense gun reform” gets difficult when states find these issues entirely in their wheelhouse, and the nationwide impact of these reinstatements can be difficult to measure because of their state-by-state nature. Further, the federal government cannot intervene in the reinstatement of gun rights if the state decides to restore other civil rights, like voting, sitting in a jury and holding public office.
Another important thing to note is that the decision to restore gun rights to these felons, whether they were convicted for violent or nonviolent crimes, rests often on a judge who, given that this felon meets limited qualifications, cannot deny their request to have their gun rights reinstated. It is exceedingly complicated when states with an active gun lobby try to pass meaningful reform and place restrictions on who can get these rights reinstated -- their plans which emphasize both public safety and second amendment rights are often scrapped or altered to allow for more lenient gun laws.
I wholeheartedly wish I could stand up for gun rights for former felons, but I think it goes too far when these rights can be restored so easily to violent offenders. Given that each of these states tightened up the restrictions on violent offenders while allowing nonviolent offenders to have their civil rights restored, I would support gun rights as part of second chance legislation. Until the gun lobby starts valuing public safety to the same degree as second amendment rights, I do not see that happening.
These two types of legislation to loosen gun laws have varying implications for criminal justice reform in the states which pass them. While I don’t think the federal government should have excessive oversight, I believe significant changes should be made to place public safety and second amendment rights on equal footing. Those who commit non-violent offenses should have their gun rights secured, given they meet specific qualifications, but these qualifications need to be shaped up so they don’t put weapons in the hands of violent individuals and threaten public safety.